Alabama vs. Arkansas Razorbacks: Keys to Victory


The Alabama Crimson Tide (4-1) looks to redeem themselves this weekend after a disappointing loss to Ole Miss . Alabama returns to the road against the Arkansas Razorbacks (3-2).

Arkansas is coming off of a bye week after giving up a 14-point lead in the second half against Texas A&M in Dallas two weeks ago. This marks the first time all year that Alabama faces a traditional power running offensive attack after spending the year defending spread offenses. Alabama will need to bounce back and lower the penalties and mistakes against the powerful Razorback running game. Let’s talk about some of the keys to returning to victory for the Tide.

Minimizing mistakes

In the past two weeks Alabama has turned the ball over five times and been penalized 19 times for 132 yards. Alabama was able to overcome that litany of mistakes against Florida, but the mistakes became drive-killing and ended up costing the Tide the game against Ole Miss when it was all said and done.

Crowd noise could be blamed for a few of the mistakes against Ole Miss, including delay of game penalties and false starts, but the Tide suffered those same mistakes against Florida at home so it is more than just crowd noise that has affected the Alabama offense in terms of penalties.

Blake Sims will have to be careful with the ball not just in the passing game but when he tucks the ball. Alabama cannot afford to continue to give the ball away and kill their own drives with dumb mistakes.

Discipline is a key factor in not turning the ball over and not being penalized, but discipline is also a big factor in stopping the run. Alabama has easily stopped the run thus far this season but the Arkansas running game is a different animal. The Razorbacks are a “line ‘em up and run it right at ya” type of offense, so discipline in filling the gaps and linebackers stepping up to fill holes and not over pursue will be big in this game.

Alabama has spent the majority of this season in nickel and dime defense because of the spread offenses so this is really the first time Alabama will spend much of the game in the base 3-4 set, though I’m sure we will see big five man fronts on defense as well. Expect A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed, DJ Pettway, and Brandon Ivory to see the majority of playing time across the line.

Backups must step up

Alabama has suffered a litany of injuries this season which has really hampered both the offense and defense. Receiver DeAndrew White and cornerback Eddie Jackson have both been banged up all year, along with safety Jarrick Williams. All three are expected to be available against Arkansas, but last week another trio of Crimson Tide players went down.

Tailback Kenyan Drake was lost for the season due to a horrific broken leg, while Denzell Devall suffered a sprained ankle and Ryan Kelly sprained his knee. Devall has been limited in practice, and though he would be sorely missed on defense, he may need to sit out with a sore ankle against a punishing style of offense. Kelly will be out for a few weeks with his knee injury.

Replacing Devall last week was Ryan Anderson, who has had a lot of playing time this year and is a solid pass rusher, so he should continue to gain those reps, though he will likely split time with Dillon Lee against Arkansas.

Kenyan Drake was more of an all-purpose threat for the Alabama offense, lining up all over the field, even split out wide as a receiver, so his loss will be felt much more than just in the running game. Redshirt freshman Tyren Jones is really the only other back on the roster that has that shifty, speedy back type of ability that Drake possessed and even he is out for a few weeks after tearing a tendon in a finger last week.

Sophomore Altee Tenpenny will likely earn more time as the third back, but he is a punishing, hard-nosed runner in the same vein as T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry. Alabama doesn’t really have that change of pace back anymore, so it will be interesting to see if Lane Kiffin decides to use speedy young receivers like Chris Black to try and get them in space, even in the backfield as he did with Drake.

Replacing Ryan Kelly is probably the biggest deal here, as redshirt freshman Bradley Bozeman earned his first meaningful playing time last week after Kelly went down. He struggled with the crowd noise and had a multitude of low snaps that really killed the quick passing game. Bozeman will look to improve after a full week’s practice with the first team and crowd noise will again be one of the factors to look out for.

Dominate the trenches

This game will be won or lost in the trenches between these two teams’ massive linemen. Arkansas’ running game averages seven yards per carry and over 300 yards rushing a game while leading the country with 20 rushing TDs.

Alabama is no slouch either, averaging five yards per carry and nearly 250 yards on the ground per game, though they have struggled to get the running game going early.

Both teams boast a pair of dominating runners. Alabama has Yeldon (407 yards, 2 TD) and Derrick Henry (357 yards, 2 TD) while Arkansas has Alex Collins (621 yards, 6 TD) and Jonathan Williams (486 yards, 8 TD).

The difference is on defense, while Alabama is third in the country in rush defense allowing just an average of 2.5 yards per carry and 64 yards on the ground per game Arkansas’ defense has allowed over 130 yards rushing per game and over four yards per carry. A lot of that came against Auburn who ran for over 300 yards against the Razorbacks but Texas A&M also went for over 130 yards on the ground as well.

Alabama needs to set the tone early by controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Getting tackles for loss on defense will be huge for Alabama, forcing to Arkansas in third and long situations. One of the biggest weapons in Arkansas’ offensive attack is the play-action pass to the tight ends, but if you shut down the running game you effectively take away the play-action pass. Last year Alabama ran for over 350 yards with both Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake breaking the 100 yard mark in the game, while the Tide defense held Arkansas to just 165 yards rushing.

Finish drives

Last week Alabama drove the ball inside the Ole Miss 35 yard line nine times, and six of those times the drive ended in a turnover, punt, or missed field goal. These are the same types of struggles Alabama had last season, not being able to finish drives especially in the red zone. Mental mistakes like penalties and taking sacks were killer last week and must be improved upon this week for Alabama to bounce back. Arkansas is tied for 83rd in the country in red zone defense allowing opposing offenses to score 85 percent of the time, and every red zone score they have allowed has been a touchdown. Arkansas is also 71st in the country in scoring defense allowing over 25 points per game so this is the perfect week for Alabama to improve upon their red zone numbers.

Alabama faces Arkansas this Saturday at 5:00 PM (central time) on ESPN. Follow along here at or on Twitter (@BamaHammer) for live coverage if you can’t catch the game.